WHILE THE 12 qualifiers for the Chase hog the attention of NASCAR fans for the rest of the season, there will still be 31 other drivers in every race and plenty of other story lines to follow. Here's what to keep an eye on beyond the Dueling Dozen.
1 The education of Joey Logano
The 18-year-old phenom (above) from Middletown, Conn., had his Sprint Cup debut postponed when rain washed out qualifying at Richmond last week. He'll go instead this Sunday at Loudon, N.H., and will drive five more races this season. These starts will be crucial in preparing him to take over the number 20 Toyota (Tony Stewart's current ride) for Joe Gibbs Racing next year.
While few doubt Logano's talent, some wonder if he will be able to handle the rigors of a 36-race Cup schedule. Yes, he needed only three starts in the Nationwide Series to reach Victory Lane this season, and yes, he had eight top 10s in his first 11 races. But he will wind up having started barely half of the 35 events on that circuit, and Nationwide races are shorter than Cup events.
Fortunately for Logano, he'll have the steadying influence of 41-year-old crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who won two Cups in 10 years with Stewart. The combination of the two men's skills stamps Logano as the favorite to be next season's top rookie.
September 14, 2008
2 Mark Martin's tune-up
Like a wizened version of Logano, Martin (top right), who turns 50 in January, will run in a handful of Chase races—six, in his case, for Dale Earnhardt Inc.—as preparation for a full-time ride in 2009. He announced in July that, after two years of running a partial schedule for Ginn Racing and then DEI, he would take over the number 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy next season. In 18 starts this year Martin has nine top 10s; it will be interesting to see whether, with the backing of a top-tier team next season, the four-time series runner-up can make one last run at the title that has eluded him in 26 years on the Cup circuit.
3 Kasey Kahne as spoiler
He finished the 26-race regular season 13th in the standings, just missing the Chase. But Kahne has been solid on intermediate ovals all season, including a dominant win at Charlotte in May, and those tracks make up half of the Chase schedule. He could win more races over the next 10 weeks than any other driver, despite being out of the championship picture.
4 Open-wheelers hang on
After much hype, the fledgling Cup careers of former open-wheel superstars Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya have hit the skids. Franchitti's Ganassi Racing--backed ride was shut down in July because it lacked a sponsor; he hasn't run a Cup race since. Hornish and Montoya have combined for only three top 10s in 52 starts. It's little wonder that Texaco has chosen not to renew its sponsorship of Montoya's car next season.
5 Farewell to Kyle Petty?
Since Petty Enterprises joined forces with private-equity giant Boston Ventures in June, Petty (below) has piloted the number 45 Dodge only three times, leading to speculation that this season—his 30th in NASCAR—will be his last. Petty Enterprises vice president Robbie Loomis says the team's focus is on finding an "A-level driver" to pair with Bobby Labonte, who drives the number 43 Dodge. If Kyle retires, 2009 will mark the first season in NASCAR history that a Petty hasn't been racing on the major circuit.